Policy-ish

Timing Of Birth Control Coverage May Differ For Students, Profs

Partner content from Kaiser Health News

Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University and former president of the Students for Reproductive Justice group there, testifies during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee last month in Washington. i i

hide captionSandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University and former president of the Students for Reproductive Justice group there, testifies during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee last month in Washington.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University and former president of the Students for Reproductive Justice group there, testifies during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee last month in Washington.

Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University and former president of the Students for Reproductive Justice group there, testifies during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee last month in Washington.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Could Georgetown University students like Sandra Fluke have to wait an extra year for free birth control?

There's a reason to ask the question.

Fluke, in case you missed it somehow, is the law student who testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee last month about the importance of providing free contraceptive services to students and others at religiously affiliated institutions.

Her comments drew a caustic and mocking response from conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who called her a "slut" and a "prostitute." He later apologized, but many advertisers on his show have reportedly pulled their ads.

Under the health care overhaul, new health plans (or those that change their benefits enough to lose grandfathered status) have to begin providing free contraceptive services to women in August.

Religious insitutions, such as churches, are exempt from the requirement, but colleges and hospitals and other employers that are affiliated with religious institutions aren't.

After some of them protested the requirement impinged on their religious freedom, the Obama administration announced an "accommodation" that will allow employees at these institutions to get the free birth control services through the insurer rather than their employer.

There's a wrinkle in the timing, however. Religiously affiliated institutions have a one-year transition period before they have to be in compliance.

Could that mean that students at Georgetown University, a Catholic and Jesuit institution, as well as other religiously affiliated colleges might have to wait until August 2013 for the provision to take effect?

Not a problem, says Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. The one-year delay applies to religiously-affiliated institutions in their role as employers, and thus would only affect the employees that are covered under the organization's health plan.

Students aren't employees, and student health plans are generally individual policies that the students buy on their own, even if they're offered through the college.

"Since the students deal directly with the insurance company, it's not the same relationship as it is with the employer," says Greenberger. "We don't believe the one-year accommodation should apply."

Of course, what advocates hope will apply is still to be determined.

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